It's been months since we published an excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown, so it's time to do it again. Since the last time, tragedy has occurred in Rivertown. Mr. Jackson has died as a consequence of falling into an ice-cold pool of water near his factory. The grief-stricken widow is comforted by her husband's brother, who vows to take care of her and her young son, and that situation provides the gossips with something new to talk about. In this excerpt, Mrs. Harden and her cronies gather to quilt and to gossip.
"For goodness sake!" said [Mrs. Harden], rushing to the window, "if Mrs. Jackson isn't going out to ride again with her husband's brother! Of all the scandalous things I ever heard of, that woman's conduct is the most open. What a sweet little horse and cutter!"
"And such a lovely mat! Well, I don't know that I should mind being a young widow myself, if I could get waited on in that style. They won't be home before afternoon, now you see."
"They don't even take Archie with them half the time. Well, it's Mrs. Jackson, that's all I can say; but if it had been you or me, the whole town would be in arms."
"See how he lifts her in. How old should you think he was, ma?"
"Not a day over thirty, I'll be bound. He's younger looking, a good deal, than his brother was. Take care, they'll see you—come a little nearer this way."
"I wonder if he's rich. See how he tucks the buffalo around her—I declare, how loving that 'thank you' was! Well!"
"It must be excellent sleighing," remarked Mrs. Harden, as the light vehicle glided out of sight. . . .
"Was it possible!"—"Could any woman forget her husband so soon!"—(Mrs. Smith seemed not to remember that her second marriage had taken place within the year after her husband's death.)
"Let's see," said she. "It's just three months, day before yesterday, since the funeral. I had my cloak made the day after it, and Miss Martin and I talked it all over together."
"By the way, your cloak is elegant," chimed in Mrs. Harden. "But about the funeral—don't you remember what I said to you as we came home? Mrs. Smith, says I, as true as you're alive, if that man ain't married, or going to be, 't will make a match."
"Oh, it was plain enough the very night he came. Don't you remember how she fairly threw herself into his arms? Something said to me then, (though I had no idea of who he was,) "Mrs. Jackson will marry that man!'"
"Then, you know, I carried the salts into her room, and he was hanging over her and calling her all kinds of things. He kissed her even, and her husband lying dead in the house!"
"Horrors! you never told me that—(hand me the scissors)—I should have thought they would have been afraid he would have risen up before them."
"And then her setting herself up to go on with that factory. It's all of a piece. I 've heard she planned it all out the very day of the funeral."
"And she pretending to feel so bad, Mrs. Harden. The hypocrisy of some people!"
"I never thought she cared much about her husband, between you and I," replied that lady. "How she went on with young Dr. Wheelock, long before his death!"
"How many times has Edward Jackson been up, since then?" asked Mrs. Folger.
"This is the third time. To be sure, it's not far to come, and I thought nothing about it"—(as we have seen, dear reader)—"until after the river closed. But any man that wants to see a woman enough to pay stage fare all the way from New York, and to take such a ride in the middle of winter, must be pretty deep in love. That's all I can say."
Here Mrs. Harden quilted into Mrs. Smith's elbow; and as they had come to such uncomfortably close quarters, she concluded to "mark" awhile, until they were ready to roll up.
Before that operation was concluded, Miss Martin arrived, who, breathlessly, told them to go to the window "quick." In the agitation of the moment, the front of the quilt was knocked down; but they did not stop to repair the disaster.
"Come to this window," said Mrs. Smith to Harriet; "they're just at the door. Talk of—"
"Oh! don't—now isn't he handsome!"
"That's a new-fashioned overcoat," said Miss Martin; "see how oddly the seams are closed. Have you seen one like it before?"
The ladies were not so observant as Miss Martin of the gentleman's apparel; but they all saw Mrs. Jackson lifted from the sleigh, and almost carried into the house.
This, certainly, seemed an unnecessary piece of devotedness to all present, and they came to the conclusion that, whatever doubt had existed before, there was certainly none now with regard to their positive engagement.
"It's not every one that's so easily consoled," said Mrs. Folger, as they once more readjusted the quilt; "though I have heard of people who were married within a year. Mr. Alger, you know; it was only six months after his wife died."
Mrs. Smith winced a little, but did not betray her uneasiness. Her second wedding-day had occurred just nine months from the first day of her widowhood.
Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter I